This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In one of his "Rural Essays," the late Mr. Downing has called attention to the opportunity which we have of grouping and arranging trees upon the lawn with some reference to their autumn coloring. He has remarked upon the great change which comes over a region of literal "scrub oak and pine" when the brightly colored leaves replace the dull green of summer. A recent application from a friend in California to send him "some real autumn leaves, for we have here nothing to compare with those of the East," has called up the matter anew to my mind.
Upon grounds of considerable extent, such as those of public institutions, a very pretty effect can be produced by the difference in color displayed by different trees in the autumn. Where the rich yellow, so commonly assumed by the leaves of many of our deciduous trees, is projected upon the deep green of a well fed lawn or the dark foliage of evergreens, the effect is exceedingly fine, and will call out the admiration of any lover of the beautiful. Where there is a rising background, the variety and intermingling of colors may be very much increased. Our mountain sides would be very hard to excel in this respect, but they show us something of our capabilities in this direction. Who is there who has traveled down the Susquehanna from Williamsport to Harrisburg during the first or second week of October, and has not marveled at the magnificent picture which is then presented? On a somewhat smaller scale we can reproduce upon our grounds some of the bright spots in this picture.
One great difficulty, however, consists in the fact that many of our brightest and most desirable trees retain their leaves but a very short time after they have changed. The purple of the ash is one of the earliest heralds of the change in season, and the color is unique; but the leaves drop and the tree is left quite bare long before many other trees have taken the first hint of the approaching winter. The white maple when growing vigorously, often shows the most beautiful lemon-yellow, but a very few days suffice for its display. It disappears as quickly as it came. The sugar maple is considerably better, for it holds its leaves much longer, and, moreover, they often assume a bright scarlet, which makes the tree one of the brightest ornaments of our autumn days. We have a few trees which hold their leaves so persistently, and change so gradually, that the period of conspicuous display is prolonged late enough to suggest that these qualities should make them of increased value in ornamental planting. Of such trees I would name the red oaks, which color slowly, but finally take a deep red, which is very effective in contrast with green.
As seen naturally, they are very often intermingled with the pitch and white pines, and this suggests that they might be used in planting much more abundantly and effectively than is ordinarily done.
Each year I become more and more in love with the Norway maples for large grounds. Individual trees vary a good deal in their behavior and in the color assumed (a fact more or less true and noticeable in all trees), but the general course with them is to hold the deep green of their leaves pretty late; then comes the faint tinting of the tips of the twigs, which spreads more and more until the tree looks like a mountain top glistening in the sunshine, while everything about its base lies in shadow; more and more the gold encroaches on the green, and at length a golden ball it stands out a marked object in any company. With favorable weather (which we are apt to have at about this lime), it may hold its leaves in this condition for two weeks or more. When the heavy frosts come, we find the leaves dropping rapidly as the cool morning air is heated by the ascending sun, and should a strong wind come, they are caught up and scattered in long, streaming lines over the turf, forming a very pretty picture to the looker-on from a little distance.
Thus the beauty of its autumn foliage amply atones for a certain stiffness of outline and habit, and the globular figure which this maple is so apt to assume.
I believe this feature in ornamental planting worthy of more attention, especially in those places where from the size of the grounds, the relation of surrounding highland or natural growth, and the variation of the surface, large numbers of trees are required, and considerable variety is needed.